Category: Group Leadership

Here are my top three reasons to lead a group of teens, even if you have no teens of your own.

3. Leading teens prepares you for what is to come. If you have no children, or you have very young children, working with teens can be a huge eye-opener. You will quickly become aware that you don’t know much, but you will be accepted right away for two reasons. You are younger than their parents, so you are not nearly as old and old-fashioned in their minds. Secondly, if you have young kids, you will be popular with the girls, and sometimes boys , who love to babysit.

2. Leading teens keeps you young. If your own children are out of middle school, and you decide to step in and help teach middle schoolers, you are perfectly situated for staying young at heart. The kids will keep you up to the minute on the latest styles and music. You will never be completely snowed by current trends or issues. When I first stepped into youth ministry, teaching Sunday School for 6th and 7th grade, my youngest was in high school. I was truly afraid that I would not be able to connect with the kids, and that it would be boring for them. Do not fear that you will be ignored or considered too old. As soon as they know you love them, they will love you back.

1.  You are the NOT-parent. Every parent of a teenager, whether they know it or not, is hoping that like-minded adults will speak into their child’s life. Christian parents may seem like oddities to kids, especially if they don’t know other Christian adults. So when someone other than their parent seems to care about them, almost like a parent, who demonstrates the same Christian world-view as their parent but is NOT the parent —- the kids respond. Somehow, this reaffirms for them that these values are held by many people, and that their parents are not space aliens after all. It also makes the teen feel more a part of the believing community. So one of the best teen leaders is a not-parent. Somebody who is not the parent of the teen or parent of their friends. Being the not-parent for a young person is usually appreciated more by the parent than the youth at the time. But the influence you may have on that child quite possibly can last a lifetime.

Be NOT afraid! These three words appear throughout the Bible and they apply to you, too. Kids need affirmation and good role models. They need to feel the Christian community is real. They want to belong, not only because their parents bring them, but because they find both friends and leaders who love them.

What church doesn’t need caring adults in youth ministry? Call your youth director today and see if there is a place where you can feel somewhat comfortable to start leading a group of young people. Don’t be surprised when you are asked to provide background checks. That is just how the world is today. But it is worth it. You may be just the NOT-parent your church family needs.

What’s in your toolbox?

When working with teens, you don’t have time to dig through a huge selection of tools that might fit the situation. But you need a few basics that have a great chance of working. A handyman would not be without a basic set of tools for tackling most home problems. His list of basic carpenter’s tools is a metaphor for the basic toolkit you need in Teen Bible Study.

Tape Measure: “Measure twice, cut once.” That is every carpenter’s first rule. Take a good listen to your group. Measure their interests and their abilities. Find out what problems they face, and see if some Bible characters have similar issues.

Carpenter’s Square: This tool measures a good 90 degree angle, like between the vertical and the horizontal in a structure. Remember that students need to look both ways in Bible study – upwards toward God and on a level with their neighbors. Teach them to love both God and others.

Plumb Line: The plumb line is used to measure a straight vertical. Amos the prophet used the plumb line in his teachings to show people how far they had strayed from the truth. Don’t give students a watered down version of the Bible. Keep God’s word straight.

Level: Stay on the level with your teens. They will know if you are looking down on them. They will know if you aren’t being honest with them. Keep it real.

Saw: Cut out the extra stuff. Some points are just fluff. You don’t have to share every theological thought you have ever had about a subject. And don’t let your discussions stray so far from the topic that you can’t find a way back. Stick to the main message.

Drill: Dig. Create holes. Allow the water of the Word to flow through them. Make a space with your questions that can only be filled with the truth of God’s Word.

Sandpaper: Every group has one or more people with rough edges. Let them ‘sand’ one another, by learning tolerance and kindness in the group.

Pliers: Hold tight to a lesson until it sticks. Use your teaching to bend minds and hearts to be pliable in the hands of the Father.

Screwdrivers: Use good questions to remove barriers and to tighten good insights.

Hammer: Use only in emergencies. But occasionally, hit the nail on the head.

What’s in your toolbox?

The struggling teen.  What is your teenager struggling with?  Today’s teens struggle with far more than the teens of previous generations.  Our world is changing speedily in technology and communication style and information.  There are pressures from parents, peers, teachers, friends.  Expectations are hard to discern and harder to meet.  So how does this affect the self-image and emotional stability of our teens?

Eight feelings and needs of struggling teens:

  • Feeling unloved, isolated, or alone —- Needing acceptance, friends, and community
  • Feeling stressed —– Needing peace and unstructured quiet
  • Feeling angry —– Needing perspective
  • Feeling bullied —- Needing refuge
  • Feeling depressed, broken-hearted —- Needing happiness, joy, and purpose
  • Feeling guilty —- Needing forgiveness and restoration and a second chance
  • Feeling hopeless —- Needing good role models
  • Feeling inadequate —– Needing reassurance

My heart breaks for kids these days.  These are very real feelings and needs.  Often in the whirl of family life parents are not even aware of what their children are facing.  Since the world is changing so fast, the contrast with the world in which we were raised is sharper than ever, and old coping tools seem inadequate.  “Concentrate.” “Get up earlier.”  “Go to bed earlier.” “Don’t worry what others say.” “You’ll be OK.” “Just get through this year.” “Study hard so you get into a good college.”

When these old platitudes miss the mark, many teens seek out other ways to satisfy their needs, like drugs and alcohol, or violence, or gang communities or self-destructive habits.

A better way to address the needs of the struggling teen in your life is found in the Bible.  But where? (more…)

There are many biblical examples of great leaders – Moses, David, Peter, Paul – but let’s just take a look at Joshua. Born a slave in Egypt, Joshua rose slowly over many years into the primary leadership role for the entire nation of Israel. An impressive transition on many levels. The life of Joshua spans more than the book bearing his name. He is mentioned in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, too. From his story we can see five basic elements of great leadership.

1. Watch a real leader at work. When Moses finally led the people out of Egypt, Joshua watched as he gave credit solely to God (Exodus 15:1-21) He witnessed at close range the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24:13-14) He listened as Moses interceded for the people after they worshiped the Golden Calf. (Exodus 32:11-14) Joshua waited outside the “tent of meeting” when Moses met with the Lord (Exodus 33:11) He witnessed the construction of the ark in which Moses was commanded to carry the law, some manna, and evidence of a miracle. (Exodus 25:10-22)

In short, Joshua learned some of the keys to great leadership by watching Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time.

2. Be patient. Moses had to be very patient with complainers in the midst of the large assembly. People did not readily trust Moses or God to bring them into the Promised Land. Remember they had been slaves for 400 years.   When Joshua, Caleb, and ten others were sent to spy out the land God had promised, the people overwhelmingly voted to live in fear. (Numbers 13 and 14) This resulted in 40 more years of wilderness wandering. Ouch. Patience, when you know what to do, is hard. Sometimes it takes way more time than it should for the people to see what the leader can see at once.

3. Be courageous. When Moses’ work is done, Joshua is commissioned. He is told over and over to “be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6,7,9) With his 40 + year internship under Moses, Joshua had the courage that comes from faith and the strength that comes from discipline. He would need all of that when facing the native peoples of the land of Canaan.

4. Stay grounded. The greatest mistake made by leaders throughout history is forsaking the principles and character qualities that helped them rise to power. Moses left both a fine example and specific instructions on how Joshua and all the people were to remember and follow the laws handed down on Mt. Sinai. To his credit, Joshua made certain to keep these laws close by. He rooted out problems as soon as they cropped up, and acted honorably in every decision he was called upon to make. Integrity must be intentional for a leader. Joshua demonstrated this throughout his career.

5. Learn from history. Joshua understood that people have short memories. They quickly forget what God has done, and wander into dangerous territory with nothing but their foolish pride. As soon as the people crossed into the Promised Land, Joshua supervised construction of a stone monument so that all would remember what God had done in getting them from Egypt to the Jordan River. (Joshua 4) Later, he built an altar at Mt. Ebal (Joshua 8) with giant stone billboards containing God’s laws, so that everyone could see them. And finally, in Joshua 24, he set up a “stone of remembrance” at Shechem. If leaders keep in mind what has led to success in the past, they are better able to apply those practices for success in the future. Joshua exemplified this type of leadership.

Teens today need good role models for leadership. A study of Joshua teaches how young people can learn much from mentors and from history while they are waiting for their chance to shine. An excellent in-depth study is Joshua: Strong and Courageous.

What Joshua learned most of all from his mentor, Moses, was this:

The key to great leadership is a close relationship with God.

Lead on.


What are the right questions to ask in Bible Study? What is the purpose of Bible study? Why do we care about asking the right questions?

Any teacher or leader who cares about sharing God’s Word also cares about successfully getting students involved in the Biblical story. It’s not just learning the facts, or the language, or the history. It’s not just whether or not something actually happened. Teaching the Bible is about making it come alive and finding the truth that can be applied today. And even more important, it is about helping students see God more clearly and grow closer to Him through a better knowledge of His Word.

In the late 1980’s when I first began leading Bible studies, I read a wonderful book by Dick Murray, Teaching the Bible to Adults and Youth, Abingdon Press, 1987. Dick Murray was a lively character, a Christian Education professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU in Dallas, who could bring Bible study fully alive with a variety of methods. Some of his methods are staples in my own style of teaching the Bible to teens.

In asking Bible study questions, there are four keys to keep in mind.

  1. Address multiple learning styles
  2. Dig for meaning
  3. Ask theological basics
  4. Find an Application


Multiple Learning Styles: Much research (more…)

There are plenty of reasons to offer Bible study to teenagers. But here are five benefits or by-products that can have a positive, lasting impact on teens.


The Bible tells teens just how accepted and valued and loved they are, just as they are.  The world is full of critics and comparisons.  The Bible is the only place where teens can find proof of God’s undying love for them. In Genesis, they will see that all humans are created in the image of God and he called them VERY GOOD. That is better than GOOD, which is what God said about everything else in creation. Every sunset, every tree, every rocky shore- God called them good, but every single human being starts by being, in God’s eyes, Very Good. No matter our background, our mistakes, our abilities or disabilities, God wants to include us in his kingdom family.


Benefit #1: Knowing God’s everlasting love is directed at you.




By getting deeper into the Bible, teens get an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they believe the basics of Christian faith. They can test the truths of what they heard in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School. The more they study, the more they see grace, the underlying theme of the entire Bible. It all hangs together in amazing ways, with echos of earlier concepts in later writing and prophetic passages which prove unbelievably accurate. Teens begin to see how biblical faith is distinct from other religions. They can ask deeper personal questions about the nature of God and the nature of faith. They can make an informed decision about following Christ.


Benefit #2: Knowing the truth about God and his overarching story.



Students in small groups learn from each other at least as much as from the leader/curriculum.  Teens gain valuable friendships with others in Bible study. By listening to one another and discussing what they read, students bond over important values instead of only sports teams, fad clothing or music videos. Adult leaders, especially those who are not the teens’ parents, demonstrate what mature faith looks like, and teens absorb this knowledge as well. More important than the relationships with peers and adults, a relationship with the God of the universe grows bright as the sun. It is this by-product of community that almost always adds value to time spent in Bible study.


Benefit #3: Making solid friendships with others while building a close relationship with God.


Kids today are really busy. If they come to a Bible study group at all, you want to help them get the most out of it.

So don’t overload them with homework or expect they will be able to get it all done each week.

We have to meet them where they are.

The character studies available here include passages to look up and think about, preferably before coming to the group for discussion. That only works well when students are motivated and have plenty of time.

But here is another – perhaps better – way to approach the study. Preview the week’s material ahead of time, and decide on 4 or 5 sections to work together. You may decide based on the interests of your students, or passages you like a lot, or simply on the amount of time you have. 90 minutes is about as long as I would ever try with teens. (more…)